Tavares calls Chrysler a 'pillar' of Stellantis, says brand has a future
There is a future for Chrysler among the 13 other brands of Stellantis NV because it is a "pillar" of the transatlantic automaker, CEO Carlos Tavares said during his first visit to North America since creation of the new company.
Jeep SUVs and Ram pickups may drive profits in North America, but Chrysler sits alongside Fiat and Peugeot as hallmarks of the American, Italian and French heritage of Stellantis created last month from the merger between Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV and Groupe PSA.
Experts, dealers and workers have questioned what the future of Chrysler will be within the new company given it sells minivans and a mid-size sedan, two shrinking segments. The company needs a few more months to determine the best positioning — or "vision destination" — for the brand, Tavares said.
"Chrysler is one of the three pillars, which represents the foundation of Stellantis," he said during a virtual news conference while visiting Michigan. "Our mindset is to try to protect ourselves in the future as a matter of respect to all of those who were in the past able to lead this brand to the current outcome. If we are here to talk about it today, it is because before us, many talented people were able to lead us to this point. That is our responsibility."
Like at PSA, Tavares has appointed CEOs to lead each brand. Chrysler is the only one without one to helm its future, but that vacancy is expected to be filled in the coming months. Tim Kuniskis, who had led FCA's passenger car brands including Chrysler and is leading Dodge at Stellantis, is filling in for the interim.
Other Stellantis brands have a purpose: Jeep is the adventure SUV brand, Dodge is all about performance and Ram makes trucks and commercial vans.
"You need to give Chrysler an identity at this point," said Karl Brauer, executive publisher at auto information website CarExpert.com. "Fiat and even more so Chrysler have atrophied. They didn’t have a strong identity to start with that could easily take advantage of where the market was going."
Under FCA, Chrysler had become the "people-mover" brand. Its plug-in hybrid minivan had attracted interest from self-driving robotaxi companies including Google parent Alphabet Inc.'s Waymo LLC and Hong Kong-based AutoX.
Tavares said the brand is in need of a talented and visionary CEO who perhaps can make Chrysler what it once represented.
"It is an opportunity for us to make the brand rebound," he said. "We do not forget that Chrysler was in the past the expression of the automotive American technology, the best technology available at that point in time. Perhaps there is a connection there that we can do and protect ourselves in the future, perhaps using other ideas like autonomous vehicles, zero-emission vehicles, highly connected vehicles. This is something that is still in the works. I don’t think we have concluded anything so far."
Industry observers have suggested Fiat could become an all-electric brand, Brauer noted. That could be a path for Chrysler, too.
Each brand will have its own roadmaps toward electrification, Tavares said, and he plans to share more details in the next few months as a part of a greater strategic plan. Every newly launched vehicle will have an electrified version somewhere in the world by 2025.
Mike Manley, FCA's former CEO and Stellantis' head of Americas, is leading the company's conversations with the Biden administration as it seeks to implement more stringent regulations on emissions and bring them closer to European requirements.
"That opens the door to a very nice synergy where we can speed up everything as it is related to electrification because we have one of our biggest markets that is already very strong on that matter," Tavares said.
The company is committed in its role to fix global warming, he said, but electrification adds engineering and production costs. He stressed transportation must remain affordable without affecting the company's profit margins or else jobs will be at risk.
Tavares laid out those challenges on Tuesday to workers and United Auto Workers representatives during a visit with Stellantis chairman John Elkann and other company executives to the new Detroit Assembly Complex on the city's east side that produces Jeep Grand Cherokee and Dodge Durango SUVs.
"It is our mutual interest," UAW President Rory Gamble said Wednesday during a virtual event held by the Automotive Press Association, "to have great, factual, open dialogue going forward so that we can very accurately and timely meet the challenges ahead."